Nick Carr's enterprise software fantasy land

In a post titled, Michael Krigsman doesn't understand enterprise software, Nick Carr brings forth a series of nonsense arguments unsupported by the reality of how enterprise software is developed, purchased, used, and maintained.To begin, Nick makes the point:ZDNet blogger Michael Krigsman lays in to Scoble for having the temerity to ask why business applications can't be redesigned to be more like consumer applications - fun, friendly, even "sexy.

In a post titled, Michael Krigsman doesn't understand enterprise software, Nick Carr brings forth a series of nonsense arguments unsupported by the reality of how enterprise software is developed, purchased, used, and maintained.

To begin, Nick makes the point:

ZDNet blogger Michael Krigsman lays in to Scoble for having the temerity to ask why business applications can't be redesigned to be more like consumer applications - fun, friendly, even "sexy."

Nick goes on to say:

I'm sorry, but I think Krigsman is the one who doesn't understand enterprise software - or at least doesn't understand what it could become. The distinction he draws between business and consumer applications is specious. Are we really to believe that making software engaging is somehow incompatible with making it reliable and secure? That's just baloney.

And concludes:

By perpetuating a false dichotomy between the friendliness of consumer apps and the seriousness of business apps, all that Krigsman is doing is giving enterprise vendors cover for continuing to produce software that's difficult and unpleasant to use. Give Scoble credit. He's asking the right question.

Like Robert Scoble, Nick misses the point because he asks the wrong question. Since enterprise developers don't deliberately set out to create hard-to-use applications, there must be reasons why this happens. Simply complaining and waving a magic wand, as Nick seems inclined to do, decreeing that "Ye shall make thy software better" hardly seems like a practical approach to solving the problem.

Why is enterprise software often hard to use? Several reasons:

  1. Priorities. These are big infrastructure systems, and usability is often lower on the priority list than the massive effort to get functionality working correctly.
  2. Legacy support requirements. Enterprise systems often last for decades, meaning enhancements must integrate into old systems. This makes introducing new user interfaces and workflows difficult.
  3. Product cycle times. Completely reworking an enterprise system, including all the process functionality, is a huge undertaking that the largest vendors can only accomplish every 15 years or more. Larry Ellison made this exact point in his keynote address at Oracle OpenWorld last month. Given the long product cycle times, it's almost inevitable that enterprise system user interfaces will seem continually out of date.
  4. Technology limitations. Ultimately, the problem can be solved by software technology that completely isolates the user interface from all other elements of the application, including data, backend services, and so on. Such an architecture would enable anyone with the right skills to create new user interfaces that don't interfere with the proper operation of the software. SAP is doing precisely this, with its new Business byDesign product. I'm sure there are other examples out there, I just haven't seen them.

Nick Carr's comments on enterprise software suggest he's living in a fantasy world, where hopes and dreams are pleasant substitutes for reality. Don't worry, Nick, we're your friends and we'll help talk you down.

Update: A number of my Enterprise Irregular colleagues have weighed-in on this important issue. As the leading thinkers and analysts in the enterprise software space, their opinions are worth serious consideration: Dennis Howlett, Craig Cmehill, Dan Farber, Anshu Sharma, Sadagopan, Susan Scrupski, Vinnie Mirchandani, Ross Mayfield, Phil Wainewright, Eddie Herrmann, Jevon MacDonald, and Jason Wood.

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